Do the recent arguments about Zionism show how not to use history?

Is Zionism the same as Judaism or Jewishness?

No. Zionism is political, but you can be a Jew or a follower of Judaism without holding any particular political views. However, in the debate about antisemitism in the Labour Party people have entangled the three concepts. This was mainly because they wanted to ensure they were free to criticise Israel.

What has history got to do with Zionism?

Nobody wants to deny anyone the right to criticise the Israeli Government for its current actions. Many Jews, including many Israelis, are highly critical of that government. The problem arises when people wish to criticise the founding of the modern state of Israel in 1948. Yes – that’s history, see?  Some say it was a mistake, morally, politically and legally, to create that state against the will of the local Arabs. Others say it was only right, not to say essential, to give the Jews a country of their own after centuries of persecution in various places, culminating in the Holocaust. Where should German and other displaced Jews go, if not to their ancestral homeland?

Why is being against Zionism antisemitic?

People don’t usually call you racist for taking a view about a historical event. You might claim the Partition of India or the Union of England and Scotland were Bad Things, but that would not make you anti-Indian or anti-English. Israel is a special case. If you say  the founding of the state of Israel was wrong, you are implying it shouldn’t exist now. If it didn’t, what would all its citizens do? Where would they go? Some people think they have a solution: exterminate them. That is the view expressed by a lot of Islamic extremists and some other people. Remembering the Holocaust, you can’t expect Jews to simply write off statements like that as empty rhetoric, although that’s probably the case, mostly.

Zionism is a fact. History can’t be reversed.

Right or wrong, the British, with the approval of the United Nations, created the State of Israel in 1948. It was never going to be possible to undo that act without a lot of bloodshed. A lot. Therefore, in reality, to be anti-Zionist is to be antisemitic. The history of Zionism should help us all understand Israel today. We can all have opinions about that history, just as we can have about the British Empire, the Russian Revolution, or anything else. What is dangerous, however, is to talk as if we can now change that history. Some people say black and Asian people don’t belong in Britain and should go back to where they came from. It is not a viable proposition, as they have been here too long.

I love history, and hope we can all learn from it, but I want to live in the present to deal with the World as it is, not as it once was, or might have been if things had been different.

 

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